WASHINGTON (CN) - Senate Democrats subjected Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency to withering questioning on Wednesday as Republicans sought to make the most of what little record he has of trying to protect the environment.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrived for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee being something close to a poster boy for Trump's selection of nominees to head agencies they've roundly criticized -- or worse -- in the past.
Shortly after Pruitt took office in Oklahoma in 2011, he disbanded the unit responsible for protecting the state's natural resources, and reassigned his staff to file more than a dozen lawsuits challenging EPA regulations.
Pruitt also joined a multi-state lawsuit opposing the Obama administration's plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, and he recently sued the EPA over its recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act.
Pruitt didn't back away from those actions Wednesday, and instead sought to portray them as necessary to protect his state and its industries from federal overreach.
"Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum," Pruitt told the committee.
If he is confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, he said he believes the EPA "can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth."
But Senate Democrats were far from mollified.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, pressed Pruitt on money he raised from energy companies like Exxon Mobil and Devon Energy, multinationals like Koch Industries, and for the corporate "dark money" raised by groups with which he is involved that are not required to disclose their donors.
Whitehouse, like most of the Democrats on the committee, illustrated the commentary under-girding his question with visual aids, in this case a detailed chart depicted the myriad companies that have contributed to the attorney general's various political action committees and campaigns over the years.
In early January Pruitt resigned from the board of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a Washington-based group supporting the legal agendas of GOP attorney generals that Whitehouse described the group as "a complete black hole into which at least $1 million goes."
Pruitt declined to disclose whether the group's donors included fossil fuel companies or utilities with regulatory issues before EPA.
Whitehouse then proceeded to needle Pruitt for explanations on his potential conflicts of interest and how donors may have influenced him.
Pruitt responded by saying he expected career professionals at the to alert him if a potential conflict of interest were to occurs in the future.
Though Whitehouse appeared unconvinced, several Republican senators praised Pruitt for his years of public service.
Throughout the four-hour hearing, GOP members of the committee repeatedly asked that letters of support for the attorney general's nomination be entered into the record.
And so it went, Democratic body blows followed by Republican comfort and reassurances.
Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, focused on Pruitt's numerous law suits against the agency.
"You are in a position to initiate regulations that could overturn smog protections, carbon pollution protection," Markey said. "All of your lawsuits that are on the books right now, if you don't agree to recuse yourself, you become plaintiff, defendant, judge and jury for claims you're bringing against the EPA."
"I have every willingness and desire to recuse if directed to do so," Pruitt said.